LANSING — As winter turns into spring, both the group
behind the initiative to end race-conscious policies in Michigan
and its opponents have publicly unveiled their campaign strategies,
setting the stage for months of caustic competition.

The petition drive for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative
— a ballot initiative to end the use of race, sex and
ethnicity in public education, employment and contracting —
will soon begin in all parts of the state, according to MCRI
officials.

If the initiative obtains 317,757 signatures by July 6,
Michiganders will vote in November on amending the state
constitution to ban “racial and gender
preferences.”

MCRI held a public meeting last weekend at the Marriot Hotel in
Lansing to educate citizens eager to join their campaign.

Present at the meeting were MCRI Executive Director Jennifer
Gratz, the plaintiff in the undergraduate admissions lawsuit, and
University of California Regent Ward Connerly, chairman of the
American Civil Rights Coalition.

“I thought it was good. It was supposed to be a training
session those who want to collect signatures and on the methodology
of collecting signatures,” said LSA sophomore Laura Davis,
chair of Young Americans for Freedom.

But an opposition group, Citizens for a United Michigan, seeks
to undercut MCRI’s efforts and prevent the issue from
reaching the ballot. The group has recently hired a campaign
manager, Tricia Stein, to coordinate its activities. Stein worked
on Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s campaign for attorney general.
“We’ve got a good one here,” said Michael Rice,
the group’s director.

The coalition includes more than 40 individuals and
organizations, including the Michigan Catholic Conference, the AARP
and the United Auto Workers.

Both groups have spent the past two months girding for their
campaigns. MCRI has organized its campaign infrastructure, dividing
the state into 18 regions and recruiting coordinators to campaign
in these areas. The initiative currently has about 60 coordinators
and 314 petitioners.

MCRI officials also said the group is in desperate need of more
funding to run its petition campaign.

It has set a fundraising goal of $4 million for the petition
drive and campaign. MCRI is currently soliciting donations from
citizens across the state.

State Rep. Leon Drolet (R-Clinton Twp.), who is an MCRI
co-chairman, said at the meeting that for every $20 donated, the
initiative can obtain 15 signatures.

United Michigan has proposed a similar plan for its
“internal campaign,” a quiet opposition movement to the
MCRI petition drive.

The group will recruit local leaders to spread its message of
“Decline to Sign,” mainly through mail-in donations. It
continues to expand its coalition and seek more funds, Rice
said.

“We’re growing the base and we’re keeping
people informed,” Rice said.

MCRI is taking highly public steps toward its own goal of
400,000 to 425,000 signatures by June 15. Many signatures are not
valid, since unregistered voters often sign petitions. If MCRI
receives filled petitions early, they can count signatures to
ensure a high validity rate.

Earlier this month, the group published an advertisement in the
Detroit News and Free Press Sunday edition asking citizens to
“help MCRI end all racial discrimination in
Michigan.”

The ad contains testimonials from four citizens and one family,
including state Rep. Jack Brandenburg (R-Harrison Twp.).

Saturday’s meeting was the first meeting of its kind,
drawing a crowd of about 50 people. MCRI unveiled a short video
with information on the history and future of “racial
preferences.”

The video contains testimonials from students, professors and
families of all races but rarely refers to gender preferences, even
though gender is included in the proposed amendment.

The final screen reads, “Courage! The Michigan Civil
Rights Initiative. End Race Preferences.”

Greeted with a standing ovation, Connerly gave a speech toward
the end of the meeting. “Freedom from race. Freedom from
race,” he said. “It is one of the most debilitating
preoccupations of the government today — race, race,
race.”

Outside the hotel, BAMN and conservative student groups clashed
as both asserted their position. Marching in a circle, BAMN members
chanted “MCRI, we say no. Racist attacks have got to
go.”

Members of the Young Americans for Freedom and some college
Republican organizations stood silently for most of the time,
holding signs and occasionally commenting on the BAMN protestors.
One sign read “Character not color. Yes to MCRI.”

Campaign manager Tim O’Brien spoke at length on the
“art of petitioning.”

Suggestions ranged from not accepting post office box numbers as
addresses and not abbreviating towns and cities to “resisting
the urge to debate” and “keeping your eye on the
prize.”

When approaching someone to sign, O’Brien advised
petitioners to ask, “Would you like to sign a petition to end
race preferences?”

Other suggested phrases included “to end race and gender
discrimination” or “to end affirmative action,”
though the group has continually asserted that it is not opposed to
affirmative action.

Petitioners were advised to ask friends, families and members of
their civic organizations to sign. “They’ll sign it
because they like you,” O’Brien said.

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